Briefing: Liberia’s Experiment With Transitional Justice

Last June, Libera’s Truth and Reconciliation Commission (TRC) threw a live wire into the ranks of the country’s post-war establishment. Having gathered more than 20,000 statements and examined many scores of witnesses, the Commission handed down a Final Report recommending that 98 people be prosecuted for violations of international humanitarian law and war crimes committed during Liberia’s civil war. Among those named were several sitting members of the country’s legislature, a number of prominent businessmen and public officials, and a professor at the University of Liberia.1 In the Liberian capital, Monrovia, a group of men recommended for prosecution by the TRC called a press conference at which they warned ominously that the Report threatened to return Liberia to war. Several of the Commissioners received death threats, some on their cell phones, others in notes hand-delivered to their homes. At least two Commissioners went into hiding. It was not only among former warlords that the TRC’s Final Report caused displeasure. In addition to the list of those recommended for prosecution, the Final Report went on to recommend that a further 50 people be barred from public office for 30 years on account of the support they gave to warring factions. Included on this list was the country’s feted president, Ellen Johnson-Sirleaf, an icon of the international women’s movement and a widely lauded exemplar of good governance and civility.